“What Jane Saw” Website Lets Visitors Time-Travel with Austen

What Jane Saw

You no longer need to travel across the pond to walk in the footsteps of Jane Austen.

A London exhibit that Austen attended roughly 200 years ago has been digitally re-created by UT faculty and student assistants. The online gallery “What Jane Saw”  takes visitors on a virtual tour of 141 paintings by Sir Joshua Reynolds originally displayed at the British Institute in 1813.

UT English professor Janine Barchas, along with her team of Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services staff, have spent the last two years designing an interactive site that replicates the 1813 exhibit. Although it is presented through Austen’s eyes, the site also highlights the historical importance of the original one-man museum, which was a popular attraction in its day. The original exhibit, along with the new site, both set a precedents for many more of their kind.

“It’s awesome to be a part of such a large project,” says graphic design team member and UT junior Leroy Rosales, “especially being there to finish it.”

No visual record of the exhibit’s arrangement exists and the original paintings are now spread across the world, but Barchas’ team was able to construct the site based on the “Catalog of Pictures” that guests of the 1813 show were able to purchase upon entrance.  The exact placement of where each portrait hung was pieced together based on measurements from the catalog.

The labels accompanying each portrait give historical context. “For example, some sitters are judiciously juxtaposed,” Barchas says, “while others—rival politicians or high-profile socialites—are hung at painstaking removes from key members of the royal family.” Austen wrote in a letter to her sister that she was amused by some of these  portraits. The discreet groupings were something that only guests of her time might pick up on.

The site went live just as Big Ben struck midnight on May 24, precisely the same day that Austen would have been able to explore the exhibit in London. Guests at a pre-launch party on May 9 were given a “walk-through” of the exhibit using virtual-reality headsets.  The site has already attracted more than 30,000 users.

Top: Regency-costumed UT undergrads viewing Reynolds paintings on the Stallion hi-res display in the Texas Advanced Computing Center’s Vislab. Costumes were donated by the Department of Theatre & Dance. Photo courtesy Marsha Miller.


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